SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Opera Saratoga opened its season this weekend with sold-out performances of the quintessential operetta in Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” on Friday night and the premieres of two American one acts: Little’s “Vinkensport, or The Finch Opera” and Williams’ “Rocking Horse Winner” on Saturday night.
The three shows could not have been more different. “Widow” was a gay blend of Cameron Anderson’s elegant curved staircase of a set; brilliantly colored 19th-century gowns for the ladies with the men mostly in tuxes or ethnic garb; and a large lighthearted cast that danced, posed and delivered comic dialogue with a practiced ease. Director John de los Santos’ blocking for the various groupings was excellent and the pace fairly swift. He helped create a bon vivant mood, which the crowd picked up on with much buzzing and laughter at the two intermissions.
The singers were all solid. The show was sung in English with extensive spoken dialogue but supertitles for the songs were projected dimly above. Soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez as the widow -- glamorous in black brocade, showed a big, lush range as did her suitor, baritone Alex Lawrence, whose vocal line was elegant and smooth.
Tenor Scott Quinn as Camille had a clarion clarity and only stretched a bit for the high notes. His love interest, soprano Megan Pachecano as Valencienne, was especially effective for her clear voice, exceptional diction, and lively acting. Andy Papas in the comic role of Baron Zeta milked his part with gusto. Anthony Barrese conducted a light orchestra.
The only other performance not sold out is July 13.
The two one acts pitched the crowd into darker places. "The Finch Opera" was bold, brash and eccentrically novel about a little known Belgian "sport." Six singers, all from the company’s Young Artist Program, each had their own story. They sang and acted up a storm in a libretto that ranged over loneliness, terror, drunken splendor to deception and obsession very often with slyness, dark humor or angst.
Only eight musicians performed the busy score, which was lyrical and dissonant in turns, and which David Alan Miller, the music director for the Albany Symphony Orchestra, superbly conducted. The audience laughed throughout the show, and screamed and yelled its approval at the end.
“Rocking Horse” was filled with desolation, heartache and great sadness. Timing was everything. Moments had depth and nuance. Silence had substance. The four singers were committed, intense, and in great voice. The use of projected horses and riders on the walls of the theater was eerie.
Brandon Stirling Baker’s dim lighting caught the mood as did Gareth Williams’ score. Miller also conducted. Michael Hidetoshi Mori did a sensational job directing both operas. Despite the gloom, the audience responded enthusiastically.
The double bill will be performed July 6 and 13.
Also being performed is Menotti's "The Consul," which runs July 7, 9, 15.